Workiva Global Marketing Manager Rachel Behrens shares how to think strategically but welcome the unexpected.
When Rachel Behrens invited Flo–Rida to play a surprise set at Workiva’s annual user conference in 2017, her plan was to “surprise and delight the audience.” She got more than she bargained for when a tiny man wearing an oversized clock—none other than Flava Flav—appeared onstage to crash the crasher’s performance.
“No one knew that was happening,” she recalls, laughing. “Not even me, the event planner!”
“Surprise and delight” is a mantra for Behrens, who began her career as a researcher at a small biotech firm. As the company grew and began hosting after–hours meetups, she volunteered to help plan events and hasn’t looked back since.
“I always thought I’d stay behind the computer and be data-driven,” she explains. “But I realized that’s not what I want to do. I want to be in front of people. I want to create those amazing experiences.”
Since 2015, Behrens has been at Workiva—a SaaS company that provides automation for financial reporting and compliance—working year round to plan the company’s annual tentpole user conference. When the eventscape switched to digital in 2020, her role shifted dramatically. Like countless other event planners, she was thrust into an interim position of webinar designer.
But over time, Behrens adapted to the new, digital environment. For instance—her team is increasingly eschewing the standard one–hour webinar format for shorter, more accessible content. In planning for the future of in–person events, Behrens is leveraging that same activated, strategic part of the brain.
On one hand, there are practical considerations. Workiva has a policy of making all in–person events available online. To stream or to–pre–record? How to replicate content without doubling the work? Efficiency is top–of–mind, as companies readjust to in–person event costs. For a Q1 event in New York, for example, Behrens plans to invite prospects to an event previously only targeted to customers. “I could go and have a separate event only for prospects the next day, but why?” She asks rhetorically, noting that a customer panel is an excellent way for prospects to learn about products and services from peers.
After New York, Behrens’ team will make their way further west each quarter, to arrive in Las Vegas—hopefully with new clients in–tow—in September, 2022, for Workiva Amplify: the company’s first user conference since 2019.
As event–planning becomes more strategic (and, ironically, data–driven), Behrens isn’t forgetting the secret sauce. In 2022, events will need to comprise more than an open bar or a five course meal. “We have to feed guests and give them something to drink, but at the end of the day, how can we turn it into something more?” Behrens muses. “That’s really what we’ll be focused on next year: getting people those experiences back that they were missing the last couple of years.”
It needn’t be a guest appearance by Flava Flav, she assures. But post Flav and post–pandemic, Behrens is feeling especially emboldened to try new things–so long as they’re in service of attendees’ surprise and delight.
“Nothing is out of bounds when we’re planning,” she says, “It’s just always thinking back to what the attendee would want as part of their experience.